Tennessee never loses to Kentucky in football. At least they’re not supposed to.
But on Saturday night in Lexington, Kentucky, the Wildcats did something they rarely do: They handed the Vols a loss in football.
The Vols ended their touchdown drought on offense, but the offense was still far too inconsistent and inefficient. Tennessee settled for far too many field goal attempts, and they squandered four lost fumbles by the Wildcats as they lost to Kentucky 29-26. The loss marks Tennessee’s fourth consecutive loss on the season.
For only the second time over the last three decades, Tennessee lost to Kentucky. And the Vols have nobody to blame but themselves.
The Vols had one last shot to win the game with two seconds left in the game. Jarrett Guarantano reared back for a Hail Mary and he connected with Jeff George. But George was brought down just shy of the end zone, and Tennessee ultimately fell to the Wildcats.
Tennessee had several costly penalties in the game, and they allowed Kentucky to sack Jarrett Guarantano seven times on the night. The Vols’ offense had their best game in about a month, but their inability to consistently score touchdowns when they got the ball on the Kentucky side of the field cost them.
Kentucky fumbled the ball four times, and Tennessee managed to score just nine points off those turnovers. The Vols made six red zone trips but managed just two touchdowns there. They settled for four field goals in the red zone.
The Vols repeatedly shot themselves in the foot in this game. They had a penalty that kept a Kentucky drive alive on third down. That drive resulted in a touchdown for the Wildcats. Tennessee also had a penalty call back an 80-yard Ty Chandler touchdown, a penalty that pushed the Vols off the one-yard line (that drive ended in a field goal), and they had another penalty cost the Vols a big first down.
The officials didn’t do Tennessee many favors either. A bizarre call at the beginning of the game came back to haunt the Vols in a big way. The officials flagged the entire rosters of both teams with unsportsmanlike conduct penalties after a skirmish broke out on a kick-off return. That call meant that any other unsportsmanlike conduct penalty called the rest of the night would result in an automatic ejection.
Both Kentucky and Tennessee had two offsetting unsportsmanlike penalties called in the game after that point. Kentucky lost two players, and so did the Vols. And the two players Tennessee lost were huge. Linebacker Daniel Bituli and defensive back Rashaan Gaulden were both ejected during the game for the Vols, and it cost them.
Tennessee out-gained Kentucky 445 yards to 371 on offense. The Vols forced four turnovers. Yet Kentucky found a way to win.
Benny Snell Jr. totaled 180 rushing yards and three touchdowns, and quarterback Stephen Johnson gained 84 yards on six carries himself.
The Vols cost themselves this game. But credit Kentucky for doing enough to win, including their game-winning drive that went 72 yards in 10 plays for the game-winning touchdown and two-point conversion. But ultimately Tennessee lost this game more than Kentucky won it.
For the first time since 2011 and only the second time since 1984, the Vols lost to Kentucky. And Tennessee has now hit rock bottom.